Supporting a Transparent Local Food System
In 2009 Farm Fresh RI launched our Market Mobile program as a way to connect local farmers with chefs and wholesale customers. The premise was simple: Farms set their own prices online, customers order from multiple farms, Farm Fresh collects and delivers those orders, customers receive one invoice, and farms get paid first.
Since 2020, we have been working with RI-based developers Jake and Co. to both support the existing Market Mobile platform — now over 10 years old! — and build a new technology platform for Market Mobile’s future. This much needed upgrade makes ordering and check-out easier for shoppers and gives farmers and food producers streamlined tools to connect with a variety of customers. This update will go live on July 7, 2022.
What started out small — in our first year of operations we sold $191,493 of food for local farmers to 72 customers — has grown tremendously since: over $3.9M in local and regional food to 1,657 customers in 2021.
Market Mobile’s bold approach provided 100% transparency and traceability in sourcing for customers. Farmers and producers setting their own prices ensured they always receive a fair price on their terms — and they saw a greater return on their efforts than selling into a traditional wholesale system.
Since 2009 Market Mobile has evolved and made new connections for farmers and producers into new markets. This growth included a big focus on institutions including hospitals, colleges, and K-12 schools. In 2020, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Market Mobile expanded into home delivery, providing residential customers with a new way to connect with local farms, at their doorstep! And we began accepting SNAP/EBT as payment for Market Mobile pickup orders — providing community members receiving food assistance with more options for accessing fresh food and enabling them to benefit from getting more for their dollars via our Bonus Bucks program.
Much of what Market Mobile does is behind the scenes. Our largest program (both in terms of budget and staff size) takes place during dark, early mornings — in coolers, on loading docks, and out on the road in refrigerated trucks. We receive food from farmers and producers with great care. We store, sort, pack, and deliver that food — always working to ensure quality and freshness. We handle sales, invoicing, payment processing, and accounts management to ensure that farmers and producers get paid in full and consistently on a regular schedule. We do the things behind the scenes that we know add value for farmers and food businesses.
In order to financially support this work — the infrastructure and staffing needed to make everything go — Farm Fresh charges farmers a brokerage fee on sales. This brokerage fee returns to Farm Fresh about 50% of the income needed to support the Market Mobile program. The other 50% is generated from charitable sources. This fee helps us support the expenses associated with aggregating, packing, and distributing orders. Since 2015 that fee has been 18% of farmers’/producers’ listed prices. We have held off on another increase until now. Due to rising expenses, we need to increase our brokerage fee for farmers/producers beginning 7/7 to 20%.
Additionally, in order to continue the home delivery services that started during the pandemic, we will also begin assessing a $5 fee per home delivery order. Until now, we have not charged any delivery fees. This means that we have been losing money each time we’ve made a home delivery. We knew this would be unsustainable in the long run, but have held off on charging a delivery fee for as long as possible.
By raising our brokerage fee by 2% and adding a $5 fee to each home delivery order, we are able to continue to provide farmers with critical infrastructure to sell their products and home delivery customers with a way to have all their favorite local items delivered.
We know rising prices aren’t good news for anyone. We also know that transparency is hard to come by in the food system. From where your food is grown and raised to how it’s processed, there are a lot of unknowns. By providing a service for customers to order directly from farmers, we are helping to grow a more transparent food system. Part of that transparency is also speaking candidly about our costs and fees.
We are excited to continue to provide farmers and customers with our services well into the future and cannot thank our local community enough for your support.